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Manitoba History: Manitoba’s Historic One-Room Schoolhouses

by Gordon Goldsborough
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 74, Winter 2014

The MHS is compiling an inventory of historic sites around Manitoba as an encouragement to tourism and management. Some sites in that inventory are featured in issues of Manitoba History. Eds.

Chances are, if you are over 60 years of age and grew up in rural Manitoba, you attended a one-room schoolhouse for at least part of your primary education. At one time, such schools were ubiquitous throughout the province. Records kept by the Manitoba Department of Education—which was responsible for ensuring that educational standards were met—indicate that over 2,500 schools existed at one time or another in rural Manitoba.

These schools were not merely the site of educational enlightenment. They were typically also the social centres of their communities. Many of them hosted church services, Sunday Schools, dances, picnics, concerts, parties, public meetings, and election polling stations. When rural folk were asked where they lived, many would respond with the name of their school district because it was the only geographic label with which they were familiar.

Starting as early as 1905, and gaining momentum through the 1950s and 1960s, rural school consolidation was the death-knell for one-room schoolhouses. When approved by local ratepayers of a school district, the local school would close and its students would be bused to a larger school in an urban centre. Consolidation was made possible by improvements to the provincial road network that made bus transportation of students feasible over much larger distances than had been the case before. Parents worried about their children attending school farther away from home were reassured that consolidation would provide better educational opportunities. Who could say “no” to that? The net result was that the vast majority of the one-room schoolhouses closed during the 1960s. A few continued on in areas where it was not practical to transport students. One of Manitoba’s last one-room schoolhouses—Mason School No. 2149 in the Rural Municipality of Stanley south of Morden—closed in 2002.

Some of the now-closed schoolhouses continued as the social centres of their communities. Many were sold to a local citizen and turned into a private residence, church, barn, or granary. Some became museums, preserving the past for their former students who, with age, would become increasingly nostalgic about the “good old days in the little red schoolhouse.” (Those former students probably forgot that many of those old days were not so good as they recalled, and the vast majority of the schoolhouses were not red, if they were painted at all.)

A few of the schoolhouses were picked up and moved away from their original sites to a new location, usually nearby but sometimes at great distance. Some were demolished because they were too badly deteriorated or their parts were coveted for new buildings. Most sadly, some former schools were simply abandoned where they stood and slowly fell into ruin. Schoolbooks and papers littered their floors, unplayed pianos went increasingly out of tune, swings and baseball diamonds grew over with vegetation, and windows gave way to the ravages of weather, vandals, and wildlife. When the buildings became so badly degraded that they were perceived as a public hazard, they would finally be torn down or burned, sometimes to be replaced by a monument to remind passersby of their presence, but often to become a forgotten place marked only by a remnant foundation or a few random stones, bricks, or boards.

My parents both began teaching careers at one-room schoolhouses so, although I did not attend one myself, I do appreciate their significance in the lives of many Manitobans. Over the past four years, we have tracked down over 1,300 former one-room schoolhouses while mapping historic sites around the province. On the following pages are a few of my personal favourites.

Ayr School in the RM of Lansdowne was built in 1908 of locallymanufactured concrete blocks.

Ayr School in the RM of Lansdowne was built in 1908 of locally-manufactured concrete blocks.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Cameron School north of Minnedosa is a rare, surviving example of a two-classroom schoolhouse, dating from 1917.

Cameron School north of Minnedosa is a rare, surviving example of a two-classroom schoolhouse, dating from 1917.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The interior of Eunola School in the RM of Edward, built in 1937, has been restored as it looked when in operation.

The interior of Eunola School in the RM of Edward, built in 1937, has been restored as it looked when in operation.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The Ewart School building still stands in the RM of Pipestone but the road that once ran past it is now a farm field.

The Ewart School building still stands in the RM of Pipestone but the road that once ran past it is now a farm field.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Grainfields School in the RM of Shell River is so encroached by caragana bushes that it is invisible from a nearby highway.

Grainfields School in the RM of Shell River is so encroached by caragana bushes that it is invisible from a nearby highway.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The red bricks of Morranville School, in the RM of Grandview, distinguished it from other schools built on the same plan.

The red bricks of Morranville School, in the RM of Grandview, distinguished it from other schools built on the same plan.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The metal-clad Duck Mountain School in the RM of Grandview had two classrooms, indoor washrooms, and a forced-air furnace.

The metal-clad Duck Mountain School in the RM of Grandview had two classrooms, indoor washrooms, and a forced-air furnace.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The restored Marconi School in the RM of Rossburn has an attached teacherage and separate outhouses for girls and boys.

The restored Marconi School in the RM of Rossburn has an attached teacherage and separate outhouses for girls and boys.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Star Mound School, a museum in the RM of Louise, stands atop Nebogwawin Butte from which one gets a panoramic view of the surrounding prairie. Once an important Aboriginal village site, it was abandoned by the time of a 1738 visit by La Vérendrye.

Star Mound School, a museum in the RM of Louise, stands atop Nebogwawin Butte from which one gets a panoramic view of the surrounding prairie. Once an important Aboriginal village site, it was abandoned by the time of a 1738 visit by La Vérendrye.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Corona School in the RM of East St. Paul became a studio for noted sculptor Leo Mol. It now stands in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park.

Corona School in the RM of East St. Paul became a studio for noted sculptor Leo Mol. It now stands in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park.
Source: City of Winnipeg

Page revised: 3 April 2020

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